Plenty Of Time Left To Clean Up The Mess Of The First Two Preseason Games

By Matthew Marczi

After two preseason games, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin seems to be seeing everything that he was hoping not to see from his team, even considering that we are in “August football”. From mental mistakes and “Steelers beating Steelers”, penalties, special teams woes, and an inability to stay healthy, the team clearly has some things to work on heading into the regular season tune-up that is the third preseason game.

Tomlin talked about what he hoped to see from his team heading into the preseason, and he of course named all of those things listed above, but he also talked about wanting to see what the players know. “Not just in terms of assignments”, he said, “but what they know about the game. Things like their ability to communicate in the field of play, their understanding of the unwritten rules of the game of football, and the things that they should know innately”.

A week after converting just five of 16 third down opportunities, the Steelers were successful in turning just one third down into a new set of downs in 13 attempts last night. To make matters worse, a few would-be conversions were negated by penalties, including an illegal formation penalty on left tackle Mike Adams that negated a fine catch in the middle of the field for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

That is certainly an ugly combination of transgressions. The penalties are beginning to become a nuisance; in two games thus far, the Steelers have been penalized 15 times for a combined 145 yards. Eight of those penalties for 95 yards came last night, and they also came at the most inopportune times, negating third down conversions, knocking the Steelers out of the red zone, or pushing the Washington Redskins into the red zone.

On special teams, a blocked punt, a couple of penalties, a muffed punt, and a few bad decisions—combined with some shaky coverage, have new special teams coordinator Danny Smith’s tenure with the Steelers off to a rocky start. In fact, tight end Michael Palmer perhaps saved a pair of touchdowns off of punts last night thanks to his two tackles after strong returns.

Ball security has also been an issue already. The Steelers have only thrown one interception thus far, but there could have been several more, including a pair off of Landry Jones passes last night. That one interception was also a pick six.

David Gilreath lost his muffed punt in the preseason opener. Last night, both Jonathan Dwyer and Bruce Gradkowski put the ball on the ground and had it taken away. And don’t forget that Landry Jones ran into Baron Batch in the end zone and fumbled, which he recovered for a safety.

It also helps none that the Steelers have given up nine sacks in the first two games—though, admittedly, a good number of those came late in games with a pile of journeyman linemen and rookie undrafted free agents protecting quarterbacks with less than ideal pocket awareness.

On the plus side, the defense is showing signs of a turnaround in some key areas, namely in sacks and turnovers. They have six sacks thus far in the first two games, to go along with six turnovers. Cornerback Devin Smith and safety DaMon Cromartie-Smith both came down with interceptions last night, while rookies Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas forced a pair of fumbles that the Steelers were able to recover.

There is still plenty of time for the Steelers to clean things up before the regular season. They came into the first two games with no game planning other than a desire to run the ball. Now is when planning and scheming begins to take place. Players will watch film of their opponents in preparation for the next contest, and hopefully that will go a long way to eliminating some of the sloppy play seen thus far.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Jason Brant

    Didn’t you hear, Matthew? The sky is falling. The Steelers have lost two preseason games in a row.

    Fire Tomlin, Colbert, Haley, Bicknell, and LeBeau.

    I mean come on now. Tomlin inherited all of his good teams from Cowher. You should know better. The season is already over.

  • steeltown

    Yes, to be fair 4 of those sacks came by way of John Parker Wilson in the 2nd Half of 1st preseason game playing behind guys named Batiste and Hubbard

    I know some call me too optimistic.. but I feel we’ll see a different Team on the field this weekend, atleast in regards to mental errors..I think the Offense will open up alittle bit..and I hope the OL gets some fire under the collective a$$e$

    Besides the OLine (of course) I’ll again be watching the TEs Paulson, McCoy and Palmer as well as the young ILBs, CBs and kick returners

  • Jason Brant

    Agreed completely.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I agree Matt we have 2 weeks lets not turn the sets off till we get into meaningful games.

  • Larry Sarver

    OL cleanup ! Disturbing that this need exists now. Is this need because of failure to adapt to game speed? Perhaps they are facing hungrier Defensive players? Could it be unwarranted overconfidence after listening to Pittsburgh media hype the fact they are high draft choices? Something appears to be out of kilter in their collective mental approach! Hopefully its not deficiency in their physicality.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    While the O-line is perhaps the biggest concern right now for the Steelers (How will Ben throw the ball when he has defenders in his face after “one Mississippi?”), you’d be hard pressed to find an NFL fan base where the O-line ISN’T among their rants/complaints/concerns. Perhaps the only teams who are truly worry-free (or close) in that area are the Texans and 49ers.

    I hope we see improvement fast. More aptly, I hope we see a FIRE out of the O-lineman fast.

  • Luke Shabro

    Fire everybody!! We lost two preseason games. Better throw in the towel on this season

  • Luke Shabro

    I know it’s not the prevailing opinion right now but I really didn’t feel that horrible about it all with the exception of the offensive line. That is the one unit that is thoroughly disappointing all around. Barry Cofield owned Maurkice Pouncey. Adams pass pro was garbage and the pressure up the middle was positively disruptive. Additionally it seemed like they opened 0 holes in the run game. We dumped a lot of money and draft picks into this O line and it isn’t paying any dividends at all. DeCastro looked decent and that was about it. It’s hard to institute a rythm passing game when your O line can’t give Ben more than 2 seconds. If the O line doesn’t start gelling we are looking at Ben having to play John Wayne once again.

  • steeltown

    Agreed… except the dumping money on the OLine part, we are not quite there yet, Pouncey is due a new contract and Foster just got a modest extension, but the rest are playing on their rookie contracts which are not paying out much. At this point Pouncey and DeCastro might be the only ones worth signing long term, though I’ll reserve judgment on Adams for another 1-2yrs..

    However the use of high draft picks is definitely prevalent

  • Luke Shabro

    I guess I meant mostly the money for Ramon and the assumed extension for Pouncey. It’s sad when the 7th round pick is outplaying most on the O line

  • steeltown

    Agreed.. and I fully expect Pouncey to bounce back and DeCastro seems like a stud..in the end, it still comes down to the uncertainty at the OTackle positions

  • cencalsteeler

    I contribute a lot of what we saw Monday night to youth. Guys are still learning their positions and adapting to the NFL. We have been used to seeing a veteran team for some years now so a lot of these mistakes are things we as fans are not used to seeing. With the injection of youth will come a learning curve and mistakes are going to happen. It’s up to the coaching staff now to pull out the old ironing board, and start eliminating those wrinkles.

  • Bradys_Dad

    OK, alright, loads of folks are panicking early on (I admit to some as well). While I agree that the youngins’ need some time, I still take umbrage with the apparent lack of focus, discipline and belly fire. We have adequate talent to win our share of ballgames but the guys are always playing at 211 degrees. Do you know what happens to water at 211 degrees ? Nothing – just a bunch of hot water, but at 212 degrees – water boils. The coaches need to find a way to eek out that extra degree if we’re going to have a hope and a prayer this year. Adequate talent alone is not going to get us past .500.

  • Jakob

    Hey guys I am wondering how everybody felt about the performance from our starting defense on Sunday? I know that LeBeau’s preseason defenses are traditionally very vanilla, but did it seem like there were a few more nuts and sprinkles added to the defensive game plan on Sunday?

  • Matthew Marczi

    I definitely feel that LeBeau has been a little more exotic in his playcalling thus far this preseason. If I had to venture a guess, it is in an effort to get a feel for how to best generate pressure with the personnel he has at his disposal. With six sacks and six turnovers so far in two games, it looks like it’s working.

  • charles

    Some would say that penalties happen when you get beat. Not all the time. Yes Pouncey got his hat handed to him more than once and should have done some holding. But there were a lot of flagging by the refs that seemed almost trivial. Take the flags away justified or not and you get a completely different picture of the Oline performance. In fact, it was pretty damn good. Oh yeah we can’t include Whimper in anything. He isn’t worth a training camp body. Him, Gay and Spaeth ?!? Colbert has to get better with the waiver wire.
    What we have seen in this preseasonn ‘mess’ is very good performance from the rookie class. Maybe more contributions from them for the Steelers this first year than any draft of recent years.

  • sean mcmartin

    And of course BIll Cowher should never be mentioned as the greatest motivator the Steelers have had at HC. He got them to 213 degrees..

  • sean mcmartin

    You hit it on the Head Charles..The rookies have fire to win..don’t see it throughout the entire team.